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October 11, 2015 / Erik Ritland

The Latest from Erik Ritland

Erik Ritland is a writer and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. His blog and podcast Rambling On features commentary on music, sports, culture, and more. He was also Lead Staff Writer for Minnesota culture blogs Hometown Hustle and Curious North. Support Erik’s music via his Patreon account, reach him via emailor find him on Facebook and Twitter.

Hello all,

This is an intimate message from the Ritland Rambler himself, one Erik Ritland.

I’ve been writing blogs under some semblance of the Rambling On name since 2012. It started with a weekly run of several articles (in a newspaper type format) in January and February 2012. I quickly ran out of funding to keep it going, and after a second attempt in the summer I had to reconsider my direction.

Throughout 2013 I wrote a few blogs under the Music, Sports, and Sunday Ramble names. Finally in April 2014 I launched the latest version of Rambling On, a regular blog and podcast, that I’ve been running ever since.

Speaking of, Rambling On is seriously fun commentary on sports, music, culture, and more. I encourage you to check it out.

I’ve kept each of the former incarnations/incantations of my rambles up for the sake of archive. Enjoy them but be sure to check out the latest and greatest stuff at http://www.ramblingon.net.

Erik Ritland Archive Sites

Rambling On (original series)
The original run of seriously fun commentary on sports, music, culture, and more. Archived winter and summer 2012.

Music Ramble
Longer articles about music of all kinds. Archived from 2012-2014.

Sports Ramble   Local and national sports coverage. Mainly baseball and football related but some commentary on hockey and basketball as well. Archived from 2012-2014.

Ritland Ramble
Erik’s former culture blog. Society, politics, current events, and more. Archived from 2012-2014.

Sunday Ramble
Religious commentary. Archived from 2012-2013.

Daily Ramble
Daily blogs covering sports, music, culture, and more from January 2014.

The Weekly Ritland
Short-lived site that linked to each article I had posted for that week. Archived September 2012.

Main Ramble
Articles about politics and culture from the original run of Rambling On in 2012. Archived fall 2012.

Football Ramble
Commentary on the first few weeks of the 2012 football season. Another project that ran out of funding. Archived fall 2012.

Erik Ritland is a writer and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. His blog and podcast Rambling On features commentary on music, sports, culture, and more. He was also Lead Staff Writer for Minnesota culture blogs Hometown Hustle and Curious North. Support Erik’s music via his Patreon account, reach him via emailor find him on Facebook and Twitter.

October 9, 2014 / Erik Ritland

An Anthem: John Prine’s “Illegal Smile”

by Erik Ritland

Rambling On is a seriously fun blog and podcast covering sports, music, culture, and more. Check us out on Twitter, Facebook, or at our website.

Originally published in January 2014 as part of Rambling On’s Daily Ramble series.

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Alex2.2

Immortal lyrics from “Illegal Smile.” It wouldn’t kill anyone if you shaved your pits either, lady.

“Illegal Smile” by John Prine (click to listen)
Somehow I discovered John Prine only a few months ago. I had heard a few covers of his “Paradise,” which is my third favorite song of all-time, but I never went out of his way to listen to him.

I have a strange habit of buying CDs whenever I see them for sale. I do this because I know that there’ll be a time in the future when I can’t. So I bought a few at Barnes and Noble this fall and Prine’s self-titled debut was among them.

“Illegal Smile” is the leadoff track from what is now one of my favorite album discovery in years. It’s a song glorifying smoking weed, essentially, but it does it in a subtle way. Instead of beating you over the head with the message Prine instead winks and nudges, something he’s as good at doing as Warren Zevon:

When I woke up this morning things were looking bad
It seemed like total silence was the only friend I had
Bowl of oatmeal tried to stare me down – and won
It was 12 o’clock ‘fore I realized I was having no fun

Ah, but fortunately
I have the key to escape reality

And you may see me tonight with an illegal smile
It don’t cost very much but it lasts a long while
Won’t you please tell the man I didn’t kill anyone
No, I’m just trying to have me some fun

Yeah, maaaaan. This is the good sort of preaching. The bouncy feel fits the message and Prine’s fingerpicking is a highlight. Perhaps the most heralded songwriter of the ’70s, and deservedly so, he got his career started off on a good note with this one.

Erik Ritland is a writer and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. His blog and podcast Rambling On features commentary on music, sports, culture, and more. He is also a contributor for Minnesota culture blog Curious North. Support Erik’s music via his Patreon account, reach him via email, or find him on Facebook and Twitter.

October 9, 2014 / Erik Ritland

Cassette Tape Magic

by Erik Ritland

Rambling On is a seriously fun blog and podcast covering sports, music, culture, and more. Check us out on Twitter, Facebook, or at our website.

Originally published in January 2014 as part of Rambling On’s Daily Ramble series.

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There’s a kind of rush that I can’t explain
Tearing off the cellophane
Reading off the card, cueing up side A
Starting up the car and hitting play
– Johnathan Rundman


tape
I have sentimental attachment to cassette tapes. Along with thrift store LPs they were the only format I could afford to buy music on growing up, due in equal part to not having a lot of expendable income and CDs being stupidly expensive.

I always dreamed of making a cassette tape. When my friend Nate Houge sold me his TASCAM cassette recorder I went crazy. I began writing and recording songs for the first time in my life. I was about 15 and obsessed with David Bowie and Uriah Heep. I wrote really bad socially conscious folk songs, meandering love songs, and bad punk rip-offs.

When I was in high school I got as far as making artwork for a tape of my recordings called Lower than Lo-Fi, Cheaper than Cheap. The only problem was that I had no way to transfer my music from my four track onto other tapes. I think I still have the artwork for it somewhere. Song titles included “Society’s Song,” “Giving In,” and the title track. Many of them I re-recorded for the first demo that I made (once again with Nate Houge).

Evidently 2013 saw a resurgence in cassettes. Honestly, I have no idea why. LPs sound better, MP3s are easier to manage, and CDs are, well, nearly as useless only they have better sound.

In an article for Rolling Stone cassette obsessive Rob Sheffield makes a good case in favor of cassettes, though:

Why are cassettes back? It’s easy. They’re cheap and they make noise. They’re quick. They’re intimate. They have personality, not just another digital file. And they sound great, if you like the ambient hum of cassette sound. (I do.)..Tapes are the ultimate DIY format – bands can crank out their homemade goodies fast, design a groovy cover, stack them on the merch table for $5 a pop. It’s a way to indulge weird experiments or the drummer’s side project.

I can get behind this sort of romanticism. A lot of my favorite ideas are side projects that never came to fruition. If I could spend all my time making music I’d come out with a bunch of cassettes. I’d write songs forever and work with all my friends on a ton of different stuff. The romance of a person, or band, creating songs and releasing them will never lose its mystery.

Speaking of mystery, Shefflied continues:

They also have a bit of old-school mystery. You can’t just click on a cassette and get the back story. You have to let the tape roll in real time, asking yourself questions like “Where did this come from?” or “How long does this stupid thing go on?” or “Why the hell did anyone spend an hour of their life making this?” You have to forget what you know and surrender to what you hear. It’s a format that rewards the curious of ear and stout of heart.

I often bemoan that in our fast food, digital world people don’t take the time to immerse themselves in music anymore. Albums (not vinyl, but a collection of songs) are dying as a format. That you can’t skip over a song you don’t like right away forces you to listen to it and maybe find something you didn’t expect. Instead of “surrendering to what you hear” each song surrenders to the whim of the individual listening to it.

I had no idea that anybody made cassettes anymore. I’m certainly on board, though. After all, who doesn’t like a little tape hiss?

Erik Ritland is a writer and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. His blog and podcast Rambling On features commentary on music, sports, culture, and more. He is also a contributor for Minnesota culture blog Curious North. Support Erik’s music via his Patreon account, reach him via email, or find him on Facebook and Twitter.

October 8, 2014 / Erik Ritland

Legend: Reflections on Pete Seeger

by Erik Ritland

Rambling On is a seriously fun blog and podcast covering sports, music, culture, and more. Check us out on Twitter, Facebook, or at our website.

When Pete Seeger died in January 2014 Rambling On published a series of tributes to him. They are combined into one piece below.

A True American Hero
Pete SeegerI love my country very dearly, and I greatly resent the implication that some of the places that I have sung, and some of the people that I have known, and some of my opinions, whether they are religious or philosophical, make me less of an American.
– Pete Seeger

Legendary singer, songwriter, banjo player, music scholar, song collector, and all-around good guy Pete Seeger died Monday. Coincidentally all day I was reading the early chapters of Sean Wilentz’s wonderful book Bob Dylan in America which mentions Seeger a lot. I was thinking all day about how great it is that Seeger, one of the last living links to Woody Guthrie, was still around. I found out about his death from a post by one of the Band’s only living members, keyboard guru Garth Hudson, who is also mentioned in Bob Dylan in America.

How well Seeger presented himself, and how strongly he stood by and defended his beliefs, was admirable regardless of whether or not you agree with his sometimes radical leftism. During the McCarthy blacklist he repeatedly stood by his First Amendment right to believe whatever he wanted, even though it cost him his livelihood. He lost his popular TV show Hootenanny! and couldn’t get work at any musical venues that paid any money. He was forced to play for small paychecks at college campuses to survive.

Seeger was a quiet, well-stated man. If you watch any interviews with him you wonder how he was ever considered a threat. He expressed his views, sure, but he wasn’t an anarchist that wanted to overthrow the government or anything. He was simply a perceptive man who, like a true patriot, tried to influence the country he loved in what he thought was the best way. Anybody who finds freedom important, and respects people who are strong in their beliefs at any cost, have no choice but to see Seeger for what he is: a true American hero.

Love Each Other
I have sung for Americans of every political persuasion, and I am proud that I never refuse to sing to an audience, no matter what religion or color of their skin or situation in life.
– Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger (left) and Woodie Guthrie

Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie

Honestly, I’ve never had an unequivocal love of Pete Seeger. He does represent, to some degree, the sort of one-dimensional political singer that the folk scene desired Dylan to never grow out of. Even on his last album of new material, Pete Seeger at 89, he preached about endangered whales and zero waste resolutions.

But that’s only part of his story.

Seeger sang and collected a diverse selection of American folk music: slow, minor key murder ballads, negro spirituals, funny and upbeat story songs, instrumentals of all sorts on many different instruments, blues, country, and so much more. Though he never strayed from folk music his repertoire had an endlessly entertaining amount of variety.

The contemporary left can learn from Seeger’s willingness to reach out to people regardless of their political, religious, or philosophical beliefs and affiliations. In addition to the inspiring quote above Seeger also said “It’s a very important thing to learn to talk to people you disagree with.” Being open to the ideas of others, and reaching out to them, is infinitely more useful than surrounding yourself only with people you agree with and shutting yourself off to the other side.

That Seeger was willing to reach out to those he disagreed with was one of his greatest attributes. Even though his left-leaning views were sometimes radical hehad a patient, charitable attitude towards those who disagreed with him. His example will always be inspiring.

The Long-Awaited Reunion of the Almanac Singers
Any fool can make something complicated. It takes a genius to make it simple.
– Woody Guthrie

almanac-singers

Seeger and the Almanac Singers

Pete Seeger was a great man. To say anything less is a lie.

It’s particularly sad that he’s gone because he was one of the last living links to the legacy of Woody Guthrie, the most highly revered songwriter of the ‘30s and ‘40s. Seeger and Guthrie, together with an impressive group of friends that included Leadbelly, Cisco Houston, Sonny Terry, and so many others, created the most enduring American music of all-time. Although firmly left-leaning in their political views their music is so broad, creative, funny, and just plain cool that it appeals to those on all sides.

Woody Guthrie, of course, was one of Bob Dylan’s biggest influences. In the early ‘60s he traveled to New York solely to visit an ailing but still living Guthrie, which he eventually did. Seeger, for his part, became one of Dylan’s biggest mentors and earliest supporters.

Guthrie was a more talented writer but Seeger was more serious and knowledgeable. Guthrie was more himself, was more creative, was less linear. Seeger was more rigid and less flexible, but this was only because he knew clearly and exactly what he believed and why.

Dylan loved them so much, and was so influenced by them, because their music speaks across boundaries. It speaks deeply to human experience. You don’t find this sort of depth and uniqueness anymore, and that is why it’s such a tragedy that Seeger is gone. The world will miss such a strong, independent thinker.

Visions of Pete Seeger
At some point, Pete Seeger decided he’d be a walking, singing reminder of all of America’s history. He’d be a living archive of America’s music and conscience, a testament of the power of song and culture.
– Bruce Springsteen

seeger4

The man.

To end my appreciation of Pete Seeger I highlight some songs, videos, and websites that illuminate his life. I also include some loving tributes.

Pete Seeger on Appleseed
Seeger spent his twilight years on Appleseed records. On this lovely site learn about his work with them, get information about the movie about him, and check out other cool links.

Pete Seeger: The Power of a Song
Speaking of the Seeger movie, here you can watch it in its entirety. It follows Seeger through his life and highlights how powerful music was in his life.

“We Shall Overcome” – Bruce Springsteen live, 1/28/14
In 2006 Bruce Springsteen released one of his best albums, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, which was all covers of songs Seeger popularized. Hear him play his friend’s most popular song in tribute the night after he died.

The Pete Seeger Appreciation Page Jim Capaldi, drummer for Traffic among others, started this Seeger tribute page years ago and it’s still the best on the web. Includes a bio, discography, songs, articles, reviews, and so much more.

“Playboys and Playgirls” – Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan
Although Dylan’s “going electric” caused a rupture in their friendship Seeger was one of his biggest inspirations. Here’s a track featuring them together from the 1963 Newport Folk Festival.

The Last Word
“Forever Young” – Pete Seeger
Everybody is going crazy about this video for good reason. Elder statesman Seeger sings Dylan’s “Forever Young” and the results are lovely. A great tribute to a great man.

The legacy of Pete Seeger will undoubtedly live on forever in American folk lore. That isn’t a highfaluting  statement; it’s a simple truth. The work he put in to collecting and spreading the word about America’s folk music is unmatched, his willingness to defend himself even during unfair circumstances, and the songs he wrote and sang will live on forever. He is truly an American hero.

seeger guthrie

One more for the road. Thanks, Pete.

Erik Ritland is a writer and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. His blog and podcast Rambling On features commentary on music, sports, culture, and more. He is also a contributor for Minnesota culture blog Curious North. Support Erik’s music via his Patreon account, reach him via emailor find him on Facebook and Twitter.

January 18, 2014 / Erik Ritland

Dale Watson – Country My Ass; Johnny Cash

People call me wild. Not really though, I’m not. I guess I’ve never been normal, not what you call Establishment. I’m country.
– Johnny Cash

Watson

Country badass Dale Watson

Song Review: Dale Watson – Country My Ass (click to listen)
Well that’s country my ass
Who do they think we am?
Force feed us that shit
Ain’t you real tired of it?
Tell ‘em stick it up high
Where the sun don’t shine
Get pissed, get mad
‘Cuz that’s country my ass

I’m working the Jason Aldean concert tonight and earlier I had the, er, pleasure of hearing a bit of the sound check. Without the vocals the band sounded like ‘90s Aerosmith: big, bombastic, updated ‘70s classic rock. I would find out later that if you add two guys rapping over it with a super phony twang you have Florida Georgia Line, one of today’s hottest up-and-coming cuntry sensations.

Sometimes I get bored with complaining about contemporary cuntry music. But when I try to think of its redeeming qualities I stumble. The songwriters are talented, I guess, even though they’re largely manipulating people’s emotions. The producers are good at what they do, I suppose, except with how easy digital equipment is to use that isn’t very impressive either. Some of the hottest women in the world love the stuff, though, so that’s something to be said in its favor.

I love this Dale Watson song because it wonderfully describes why traditional country fans dislike what is called country music today. “Don’t get me wrong, to each his own I believe,” he says, “but they’ve took the soul out of what means a whole lot to me.” Sure, people have the right to like it, but people also have the right to point out that it’s a soulless mockery of what country music used to be.

As Dale says, “I can see Hank and Lefty, they’re spinning around in their graves/and if they were here now, I think y’all know what they’d say.”

I reckon ya’all know?

johnny-cash-middle-finger-billboard

“American Recordings and Johnny Cash would like to acknowledge the Nashville music establishment and country radio for your support. Johnny Cash – Unchained – Winner of the Grammy for Best Country Album.”

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I’m not what you call establishment
In the early ‘80s Johnny Cash was dropped by Columbia Records because country radio stopped playing his music. After a short stint at Mercury Records failed for the same reason Cash thought he’d never record another album. Fortunately in the ‘90s Rick Rubin took Cash under his wing and recorded several records with him that are considered among his best.

Rubin was used to commercial success. His work with the Tom Petty, Slayer, Metallica, and many others all found radio outlets. He couldn’t understand why country radio refused to play the popular, critically acclaimed music Cash was making.

So after Cash’s Unchained won the Grammy for Best Country Album in 1996 Rubin took $20,000 of his own money to place this full-page ad in Billboard Magazine. It still stands as one of the coolest things anybody has ever done.

Erik Ritland is a writer and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. His blog and podcast Rambling On features commentary on music, sports, culture, and more. He is also a contributor for Minnesota culture blog Curious North. Support Erik’s music via his Patreon account, reach him via email, or find him on Facebook and Twitter.

January 10, 2014 / Erik Ritland

Appreciations of Howlin’ Wolf, Jim Croce, and Ronnie Hawkins

A musical history lesson for January 10, 2014

Where the soul of man never dies
howlin-wolf-fifties-460-85.130130107_std
38 years ago today the world lost bluesman Howlin’ Wolf. Wolf is one of the foundational legends of music, one of the most unique and influential voices in rock music. His 6 foot, 6 inch, 300 pound stature matched his large, booming voice. Sam Phillips of Sun Records, who discovered Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, and others, called Wolf his greatest discovery. “This is it,” he said of his finding Wolf. “This is where the soul of man never dies.”

That’s about the best way to describe the Wolf’s voice – and his music. Seminal Wolf songs you should check out include “Evil,” “Spoonful,” “Back Door Man,” “Killing Floor,” and “Smokestack Lightening.” The feel of the songs – and that voice – combine to make transcendent music that will give you the chills.

I suggest, however, not listening to Wolf’s stuff on computer speakers, probably in the middle of the day, while surfing the web like you may be doing. It’s best to listen to at night. And you have to give it your undivided attention. If you do you’ll understand why there’s nothing like it.

To read more about Wolf check out this entertaining multimedia biography.

The underrated Jim Croce
Believe it or not soft rock songwriter Jim Croce would have turned 71 today had he not died in a plane crash in the ‘70s. It’s a shame that he doesn’t get a lot of airplay and recognition beyond his one novelty hit “Bad Bad LeRoy Brown” as many of his songs – “Operator,” “Time in a Bottle,” “I Got A Name,” (my personal favorite) and “I’ll Have to Say I Love You in a Song” are very high quality, and his other novelty hits “Rapid Roy the Stock Car Boy,” “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim,” and “Working at the Car Wash Blues” are all better, and funnier, than “LeRoy Brown” (although “Jim” is literally the same story).

The Hawk, Ronnie Hawkins
On the opposite end of the spectrum is unheralded rockabilly legend Ronnie Hawkins. Best known for
fronting the Band before they were the Band, Hawkins was the last rockabilly refugee. His energy, on-stage antics, and twisted sense of humor are legendary. His appearance at the Band’s Last Waltz is only an inclination of what he could do in his prime.

Today Ronnie turns 79. Long live the Hawk!

Erik Ritland is a journalist and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. He writes frequent Daily Rambles and Ramblin’ On catalogs his writings on culture, music (including his own projects), sports, religion, and many other topics. You can reach him via email here.

January 10, 2014 / Erik Ritland

Trick Voices: Frankie Valli and Emmett Miller

Frankie+Valli+FrankieValli_lUnfortunately today I heard the Four Seasons’ song “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” Sure, it’s got that classic ‘60s sound, and I’d rather listen to it than all those new bands with stupid names that try too hard to be different, but it’s so lame. Songs can be lame and still be tolerable, or even good, if they have something else to go along with them (a great arrangement, solo, vibe, etc.). But the cheese of this song overshadows any of its redeeming qualities.

I do appreciate the quirky, girly falsetto of Frankie Valli’s voice though. In the early 20th century and before this type of vocalization was called using a “trick voice.” People would do fun stuff with their voices to entertain crowds. They’d make animal noises, imitate noises of trains and other objects, and do impressions and the like.3g10004u-L

Sometimes this spilled on to record. The last of the blackface singers, Emmett Miller, used his trick voice to great effect over the dozen or so singles he released in his lifetime. If you think that blackface is simply a racist throwback to a backwards era, read Nick Toches’ brilliant book Where Dead Voices Gather to get a broader perspective.

Each of Miller’s songs are fun and worth listening to but his all-time classics are “Lovesick Blues,” which Hank Williams, a big Miller fan, made famous, and “Anytime,” his signature song. They’re fun throwbacks to a by-gone era and his chilling falsetto alone make them worth listening to.

Erik Ritland is a journalist and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. He writes frequent Daily Rambles and Ramblin’ On catalogs his writings on culture, music (including his own projects), sports, religion, and many other topics. You can reach him via email here.